A Vidui (Before Death)
Making my morning coffee holy

Six ways to heighten Elul

ElulThis weekend we'll enter into the lunar month of Elul -- the four weeks leading up to the Days of Awe. This is the time to begin the journey of introspection and reflection which can deeply enrich your experiences of the High Holidays.

Who have you been, over the last year? What are the things you feel great about, the things you're proud of? What are the things you feel not-so-great about, the places where you missed the mark?

One tradition says that Elul is the time to work on teshuvah, repentance / repair, in relationship with God: whatever you understand that term to mean -- God far above or deep within, the Source of meaning, the Cosmos, Parent, Beloved, whatever metaphor works best for you. This is also a good time to work on repairing our relationships with ourselves: where have we disappointed ourselves, and how can we learn to offer ourselves forgiveness? What are we most grateful for, and how can we cultivate that gratitude in our lives every day?

If we spend Elul engaged in this work, then by the time Rosh Hashanah rolls around we will already be steeped in the themes of the season, and the prayers in our prayerbook may resonate in a different way... and we'll be better prepared to spend the Aseret Y'mei Teshuvah, the Ten Days of Teshuvah between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, mending our relationships with the people in our lives. First we repair our relationship with our Source; then we can repair our relationships with each other.

Here are six ways to dive deeper into Elul:

  1. Take a few minutes every day to breathe deeply, be present in the moment, and take your emotional-spiritual temperature: how are you feeling, not physically but emotionally? What's arising in you today?
  2. On social media check out the hashtag #blogElul, which all month long will bring you blog posts and tweets on themes of repentance and return. (This is an annual thing organized by Rabbi Phyllis Sommer, a.k.a. Ima Bima.) You can participate, too, if you're so inclined!
  3. Read an Elul poem every day and spend a few moments letting the poem soak in and seeing what it awakens in you. (Locals: contact me about buying or borrowing a copy of See Me: Elul Poems . You can also buy the book on Amazon if you are so inclined, and if you order the paper edition, you can get the e-book for 99 cents.)
  4. Come to Shabbat services. Dip into song and prayer with community. You may find that it opens your heart and enlivens your spirit in ways you didn't expect.
  5. Read, pray, or sing Psalm 27 every day. This is the psalm our sages assigned to this month. Here are some different versions to try:
    1. Reb Zalman (z"l)'s English translation
    2. One verse of the psalm set to music, in Hebrew, by Nava Tehila
    3. Alicia Ostriker's psalm 27
    4. Achat Sha'alti melody by I. Katz
    5. R' Brant Rosen's English translation
    6. Kirtan Rabbi's Achat Sha'alti (info) and mp3
  6. Go for a walk. Another tradition teaches that Elul is the month when God leaves the divine palace on high and wanders in the fields, waiting for us to come and walk and talk and pour out our hearts. Take time this month to walk in the fields, hike up the mountains, and silently or out loud say to God whatever you need to.

I hope that some or all of these speak to you. We're entering one of my favorite months of the year. If we open ourselves to it, it can work some powerful transformations on our hearts and on our souls.

Wishing everyone an early chodesh tov -- may your month of Elul be meaningful and sweet.


I wrote this to send to my congregational community, and then decided y'all might enjoy it too, so I'm crossposting it (with a few modifications) here.